The Nets offered a 49-year-old Wilt Chamberlain a contract in 1986

Wilt Chamberlain looked fit even in 1997. (AP)
Wilt Chamberlain looked fit even in 1997. (AP)
Wilt Chamberlain looked fit even in 1997. (AP)

It’s not just a Brooklyn thing: the Nets have always been about acquiring NBA stars well past their prime.

Consider this story from 1986, where the Nets offered Wilt Chamberlain $362,500… to play seven regular season games plus playoffs… as a 49-year-old in 1986.

To give you some context, the salary cap in 1986 was $4.233 million, according to Inside Hoops. That means the Nets were offering a near-quinquagenarian Chamberlain the 2015 NBA equivalent of about $5.4 million to play seven-plus games. (A regular ten-day contract would cost an NBA team today around $50,000.)

Chamberlain, who retired from the NBA in 1973, still believed he could play. From the above story:

“It is realistic,” Chamberlain said. “I work out with pro athletes all the time. I know what my body can do and what I can do.”

Then, 7-foot 2-inch Wilt Chamberlain looked down, his sleek body encased in stretch leotards as he prepared for a volleyball clinic at the Mobil Big Apple Games. “I work out every day,” he said. “Sometimes I swim, sometimes I run. I do aerobics, calisthenics. I lift weights three or four times a week. I play volleyball and racquetball. I’m 25 to 30 pounds lighter now than when I played.”

He glared ever so slightly. “What do you think? Do you think I could do it?”

At that particular moment, he looked as if he could do any old thing he wanted to.

But Chamberlain decided against it, considering the Nets’ play more a marketing stunt than an actual concerted effort to compete.

“I did not consider it at all,” Chamberlain said evenly. “It sounded like a ploy, a joke to ask a guy in the last part of the season without any consideration to the effect on the team.

“It was not a fair proposal. They didn’t ask what kind of shape I was in, whether I had a cold or a toothache. I respect pro basketball players too much to think I could go out and be competitive with them after they’ve been playing all season, doing what they do better than anybody else in the world.

“You don’t take a guy and throw him out there with nine others, four on his team, five playing against him, and expect anything like you used to get.”

Chamberlain would have split time with Nets big men Mike Gminski, Buck Williams, and Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins. But the Nets, 36-39 at the time of the offer, finished the season 39-43 sans Chamberlain, and were swept out of the playoffs in the first round.

(h/t Curtis Harris, the mastermind behind Pro Hoops History and friend of The Brooklyn Game.)

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